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Choosing a Clock: Regulation, Cosmopolitanism and Humbuggery

  • HSNY at the General Society Library 20 West 44th Street New York, NY, 10036 United States (map)

Professor Kevin Birth, Department of Anthropology, Queens College, City University of New York

Video recordings of meetings are available to HSNY members.

In the history of timekeeping, there have been periods during which multiple ways of reckoning time have existed. At the September 2017 meeting of the Horological Society of New York, Professor Kevin Birth will discuss several cases concerning political uses of horology in contexts of time pluralism. Cases to be discussed include late medieval York, Habsburg diplomacy, Fernando Wood’s hijacking of the 1859 New York Democratic Party Convention, the enforcement of liquor laws in 19th century England, and todays issues surrounding the leap second. Each case will explore different ways in which horology and politics become intertwined, and will explore how our current horological practices are very much an outcome of political and cultural compromises.

17th century Nuremberg Ivory Diptych sundial showing latitudes for different cities, Italian hours, Babylonian hours, and the number of hours of daylight and darkness (inventory no. 7899, The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University).

Ottoman Pillar Dial showing equinoctial hours and time alla Turca (inventory no. 7184, The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University)

Kevin Birth

Kevin Birth

About Kevin Birth
Kevin Birth (Ph.D., University of California at San Diego) is a professor of anthropology at Queens College of the City University of New York. He studies cultural concepts of time in relationship to cognition and politics. His publications and presentations cover a wide ranging array of topics including chronobiology and globalization, comparative calendars, timekeeping in Roman Britain, culture and memory, cognitive neuroscience, early modern clocks, ideas about roosters in the Middle Ages, and current time practices and policies. He is the author of four books: Any Time is Trinidad Time (University Press of Florida),  Bacchanalian Sentiments (Duke University Press), Objects of Time (Palgrave Macmillan), and Time Blind: Problems in Perceiving Other Temporalities (Palgrave Macmillan).  

Title photograph: Augsburg table clock, 17th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art.